By A. A. Marcoff
I offer only a slide show: the stroke, the flow, of memory – the provision of some nine or ten tableaux: flowers arranged and given in some ikebana of recollection – the life-story of a flower, how when it rises out of water it suggests the very origins of life – where 'ma' is the space between and around things – like silence – the space between flowers – the space you can see: in a city as densely populated as Tokyo, I learned to find freedom in surprising places, amidst all that cramped and crammed humanity and urbanisation: here and there you could love a tree, or a little garden, or a hidden urban river – peace within all that futuristic architecture and those grim condominiums of concrete: in row after row of houses and shacks I learned the chrysanthemum and the sword and autumn colours and the mists: I experienced the formal etiquette of Tea Ceremony, and played ygo in a quaint, old tea-shop: I threw ceremonial beans to the masses during a festival (Setsubun) at a temple: I walked below chaotic power cables, and alongside the open gash of open sewers:
all the way to heaven
blocks of concrete
ladders of fire
a dragonfly moves
from star to star
I went to Maruzen in central Tokyo, where you could have coffee and buy books which they wrapped in a smart paper package, a work of art: I experienced the Chichiba Yomatsuri – a night festival of fireworks and drum and flute – and in the severe cold I used a little hand-warmer, the more you squeezed and kneaded it, the hotter it became: I sang English folk-songs on stage at a festival in Mishima, within sight of Fuji: I saw a film called 'Yasha ga ike' (Demon Pond), in which a male kabuki actor played the female lead: there was harmony and detail in everything, even the bento lunch-box, which could represent, through the colours and arrangement of the food inside, the essence of spring (the whole thing came in an immaculate lacquered box): I learned about the spirit of the craftsman and his amazing, consummate carpentry, the beauty of wood and the co-existence of architecture and nature: they identify 3 stages of learning – 'to learn, to break away, to transcend': the alcoves (tokonoma) in old homes contained flowers and calligraphy and wall-hangings or a scroll, well-placed as the focal point, or setting, of the room – a room laid out with economy, and spare in design – humble and simple and plain with tatami matting: I went to Nikko – its Toshogu Shrine, its waterfall, and that three monkey wisdom of 'see no evil, hear no evil, say no evil': how there was no room at the inn, and how, as I walked at night down a deserted street, some young people from Tokyo picked me up in a car and took me with them to a minshuku – simple lodging in bunks: they saved me from a dangerous, cold night...
then I read books, one by Kobo Abe – 'The Woman in the Dunes': a butterfly or insect collector goes to a remote coastal part of Japan, in search of a rare specimen, and finds a wild and sandy shore, and in the quiet, as he wanders about, he comes upon a deep pit amongst the dunes, with a hut at the bottom: suddenly, he is pushed from behind, and tumbles down the sheer slope into the pit: he has been ambushed by sand people, anonymous, mysterious, sinister, faceless: he is trapped down there, unable to climb the sides of the pit: a strange woman lives in the hut, and he is accepted by her, and they live together in these conditions, food and water being lowered down on ropes from above: some things are brought in by way of a rope ladder: for days, months, years, he lives down there, and slowly loses even the will to escape: he is totally subsumed into his new reality: one day the ladder is accidentally left there, a temptation, a chance escape-route: first of all he climbs up the ladder, and looks around on the shore: but then, strangely enough, he goes back down to his home there in the pit: he has lost his sense of the world outside: he has transcended his confinement, he is no longer really a prisoner – he is himself – real, a creature of the sand: and he is used to it, entirely, this reality, this miniature world of woman and dune...